Although the regular season has come to a close, the Florida Panthers are ready for a South Beach style facelift. You’ve all heard the tales of sugar daddies attracting gold diggers in South Florida. The situation is similar with the Florida Panthers, as GM Dale Tallon and brand new billionaire owner Vincent Viola are flaunting big money in hopes of attracting both a new coach and the hottest free agents on the market, to the bottom of the east.
Although Tallon and Viola will be spending their summer pulling every string they can to give the Florida Panthers a better opportunity to succeed, there’s a gambling chance things could get even uglier than they already look. Because for every road that leads to success, there’s a million more that lead to failure.
Every move the Panthers management makes this off-season could either make or break the ambitions of this struggling organization that’s trying to forge its first successful rebuild after multiple failed attempts in twenty years. With the 1st overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, a vacancy sign for a head coach, draft picks for trade bait, and $30 million dollars for free agency, Dale Tallon has more leverage now than ever before to turn the Panthers into a playoff team since his arrival in 2010.
That’s why other than their inaugural season, the Panthers are arguably at their most pivotal point in franchise history. The stakes this summer for the Panthers are high –Vegas high– except in this case whatever happens will either haunt or bless them for at least 82 games next season.
But what fun would this roller-coaster ride of a summer be without hopes, dreams, fear and uncertainty, all wrapped up and nipping at the heels of the Florida Panthers as they try to repair their team in one swell swoop of an off-season?
These high-stakes are all part of what makes the Florida Panthers the most exciting team to watch this summer. As Tallon and Viola navigate the Panthers through rough waters toward the shore ahead, they’ll have to address a few major concerns so they don’t wreck themselves along the way.
If the Florida Panthers want to establish an identity, they can’t afford to be firing two coaches in one season anymore. There aren’t even earthquakes in South Florida, so there shouldn’t be any excuse for the Panthers having such a shaky bench sergeant.
Then again, it’s hard to get things right the first time around. Especially when the previous ownership’s tight wallet probably prevented Tallon from hiring his favorite candidate on more than one occasion. Tallon is entering the final stages of his five-year plan with the Panthers, and if the firing of Peter Horachek has proven anything, it’s that Tallon is aware that flip-flopping between rookie NHL coaches isn’t a recipe for success.
Dale Tallon on firing Peter Horachek: Didn't think it was the right fit for the direction we're going; need more NHL experience #FlaPanthers
— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) April 29, 2014
But if threes a charm, then the third coach Tallon selects for the Panthers shouldn’t be a mistake. And if Tallon’s got someone in mind, he needs to make a move before it’s too late. He’s already had to cross Peter Laviolette off the top of his list because Nashville signed him while Tallon was postponing his proposal for the IIHF World Championship in Belarus.
Although the Panthers, and especially their youth need to be molded by the right coach, it’s not only up to the coaches to shape the Panthers future core. There’s plenty of room for free agents to come in and teach the Panthers recent draft picks how to succeed at the NHL level.
At first glance, the only conciliation prize for a free agent to choose the Panthers over a cup contending team would be money. Everybody knows Tallon will be aggressively pursuing and lavishly rewarding the right free agents for bringing their careers down to Florida; because Viola’s willing to raise the Panthers salary cap from ground to the ceiling so they can build “a winning team right away“.
But finding the right free agents hasn’t always been easy for the Panthers in recent years. Panthers Captain Ed Jovonovski should serve as Tallon’s stark reminder of what a red flag looks like when aging veterans with famous last names come shopping for a big payday and a retirement home.
Although it’s a pretty good marketing ploy to sign a guy like JovoCop, if the Panthers want to fill seats at the BB&T Center and see better results in the standings, they’ll need to avoid the temptation of handing out bad contracts to veterans long past their prime.
This time around, Tallon should focus his attention on those free agents who can accent the high draft picks he’s been collecting ever since he took control of the team in 2010. The Panthers youth are starving for experienced veterans who can help them excel and contribute at a high level on a nightly basis.
And if money isn’t enough, Panthers management will have to convince those free agents they can still benefit by joining the momentum Vincent Viola is generating in South Florida. That’s because although it may not be obvious to everyone on the outside looking in, the Florida Panthers don’t need drastic change to see drastic results. The potential is there for them to turn things around rather quickly this off-season.
Joining the Panthers will give them a chance to play with recently reacquired goaltender extraordinaire Roberto Luongo, Brian Campbell, and a core of future NHL stars, like Calder trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, the NHL’s youngest scorer since its expansion in Aleksander Barkov, Panthers regular season leading scorer Nick Bjugstad, a big bruiser of a defenseman in Erik Gudbranson, and a blossoming Dmitri Kulikov.
But that’s not all the Panthers have going for them. After the lottery robbed them of the first overall pick last year, fortune has tilted it’s hand in their favor and granted them the first overall pick at the 2014 NHL draft.
First Overall 2014 NHL draft pick
There’s really only two things you can do with the first overall draft pick; take it or trade it. And if the rumors are true, Dale Tallon is aggressively shopping the first overall pick so he can trade down and possibly select somebody like winger Nicolaj Ehlers to go along with other assets.
If Dale Tallon can’t fix the second worst team in NHL with all those high first round draft picks he’s been collecting for years, the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, Roberto Luongo, a new head coach, $30 million dollars for free agency, and dozens of disposable prospects and future draft picks in his arsenal, than Dale Tallon’s 5 year plan might not be the only thing coming to an end after next season.
It only takes one wrong coach, one wrong free agent, one wrong draft pick, or one wrong trade to keep this franchise stuck at the butt-end of a joke for a hockey team. It’s a make it or break it summer for the Florida Panthers, as each move the Panthers make must be perfect this off-season if they want to emerge from the bottom of the league. And if money doesn’t talk it swears, then Dale Tallon shouldn’t have to wear out any promises of turning the Panthers into Stanley Cup contenders one day, because this summer he’s got all the resources in the world to make it happen.
I’ve been a die-hard Florida Panthers fan since the rats flooded the ice back in ’96. I have an English degree from Florida International University. Official Writer for The Hockey Writers and Cats2theCup. Featured in Maxim Magazine and Yahoo Sports.